Giant Sable Angola - 2013 Palanca Report

Dear friends,
Rains this year have been plenty and generous, and I can’t remember such an extreme wet season in Cangandala at least since the 2005/2006 season. This fact has several consequences that, one way or the other, affect our work. The first and most obvious result was over flooding the rivers, which reduced considerably our mobility inside the park. Actually, and as soon as the rains grew in intensity around mid-January, the park main road was cut-off, and we had to walk across with water above our knees to get in. Approaching the animals in these conditions turned out to be almost impossible, and the only exception was a brief observation and photographs taken still in January.

Nevertheless, the abundant rains might be a blessing, especially following several very dry seasons in a row. It reduces considerably the risk of intense drought, it should also replenish underground water resources and the soils should keep moisture for longer into the dry season; and the lush development of the vegetation should provide lots of grazing material. On the other hand, the constant rains didn't allow for strategically placed small out-of-season burnings, which in previous years had contributed for a balanced veld management and food provision for the animals. Another concern is that the overgrown grass this year will turn into a huge amount of dead grass – combustible material, thus increasing enormously the risks of hot fires in the dry season, inside the sanctuary. So basically, the weather conditions this year might prove to be good in many respects, but will demand a more carefully planned and assertive management in the next few months.

As for the animals, as always there are new developments to report, and this time a huge surprise was registered. While observing a herd inside the sanctuary in January, we couldn't believe our eyes when we spotted Joana among the group! This was a totally unexpected. Joana-the-mad-cow, had proved to be anti-social and escaped under the fence, soon after being captured in 2009. It had since remained outside the sanctuary, behaving in secretive fashion, declined to approach the hybrids when they were around in the first two years, and although we looked for her, we failed to find her during the 2011 capture exercise. And finally, even when having Ivan-the Terrible around, they didn't seem to “connect”, as they were never recorded together, in spite clearly overlapping their roaming territories. Of course, neither of them seemed to be friendly characters, but we always had hope that they could get along somehow… or at least to meet on a special stormy night… On the other hand we still fear the day Ivan will break through the fence into the sanctuary, but the last thing we expected was Joan to decide to crawl under the fence after 4 years of deliberate isolation!

As the rainy season progressed, the animals did split into several smaller sub-herds, at one given time apparently into 4 groups, one group with old females and the old bull Duarte, a second group with young Mercury and many young females, a third group composed of a couple females a younger male and several calves, and a last group mostly comprising hybrids.

Other than this, we had to rely on the trap cameras to know what was going on. And here our expectations were fully met. Back in December we were convinced that Teresa, one of our two old breeding cows which had conceived calves in January and February (the other being Luisa), would produce a second calf before end of 2013. Well, not only we could confirm that, but somewhat surprisingly, both cows produced the second calf by turn of the year! That was fantastic, as both cows, in spite of their age, seem now to be well synchronized, and producing calves every 9 months. This brought us to a total 2013 production to 7 calves (where 2 old females alone produced 4 of these), of which 3 were females, 2 males, and the two youngest still undetermined (although at least one of the later seems to be a female). Truth be said, the second male calf born, hasn’t been seen in many months and may well have been killed. Some degree of calf mortality is unavoidable, but if confirmed it was the first casualty in 3 years, and in any case it is better to lose a male calf than a female.

By end of March, we received disturbing news, accounting for a new fight along the fence, between Ivan and, presumably, Duarte. Once again the fence got quite damaged, and there were clear signs of fighting and blood, but neither Ivan nor any other bull could be found nearby. We still don’t know for sure if any bull got seriously injured or if animals moved across the fence boundary, but apparently things are back to normal and are once again peaceful. For now…

Best wishes - Pedro